Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Windup Girl

Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2009

Recommendation: An apocalypse novel of great strength.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Oil has been all used up and a series of plagues left the world grasping for every possibility of growing food and looking for energy resources. After the Contraction and ethnic purges, economy is looking to expand once more. In the Kingdom of Thailand a group of people may change the country's course.

Reactions: I have seen many positive reviews of The Windup Girl prior to picking up the book. The novel has definitely lived up to it's hype. The Windup Girl places the reader in a very atmospheric post-apocalytpic world of Thailand and introduces you to a wonderfully real and diverse cast of characters.

The characters in this book are probably my favourite aspect of it. We first meet Anderson Lake who is an American "calorie-man". He lives in Thailand undercover as a factory owner, but in reality he is searching for a way to access Thai's innovations in plague-resistant food production. From the very first pages his behaviour showcases that he is not a nice man, but as the book goes on, he actually becomes the anti-hero against a backdrop of characters who do some very questionable things.

The title of the novel refers to a genetically engineered human girl. Her kind is despised and feared in Thailand, while being cultivated in Japan. She has been abandoned in Thailand by her Japanese master and is now kept as a novelty in a brothel.

There are several other rather unique characters whose lives end up connected throughout the book. The plot involves political upheaval as well as personal struggles by many of the characters. The book is very well paced and kept my attention very well despite its considerable length.

The world that Bacigalupi draws feels surprisingly real and possible. There's depth to the narrative and twist of the story. The mood of the story is grim and there are many rather gritty scenes in the book, not to mention adult content. However, none of it is gratuitous and together it presents a powerful message. Definitely a book with a punch behind it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

SF Masterworks Meme

Picking up the meme from OF Blog of the Fallen, the following is a list of books published by Gollancz as a list of science fiction classics.

Bold means I read it.

I - Dune - Frank Herbert
II - The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
III - The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
IV - The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
V - A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
VI - Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
VII - The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
VIII - Ringworld - Larry Niven
IX - The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
X - The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham

1 - The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
2 - I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
3 - Cities in Flight - James Blish
4 - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick
5 - The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
6 - Babel-17 - Samuel R. Delany
7 - Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny (One of my favorites)
8 - The Fifth Head of Cerberus - Gene Wolfe
9 - Gateway - Frederik Pohl
10 - The Rediscovery of Man - Cordwainer Smith

11 - Last and First Men - Olaf Stapledon
12 - Earth Abides - George R. Stewart
13 - Martian Time-Slip - Philip K. Dick
14 - The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester
15 - Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner
16 - The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin
17 - The Drowned World - J. G. Ballard
18 - The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
19 - Emphyrio - Jack Vance
20 - A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

21 - Star Maker - Olaf Stapledon
22 - Behold the Man - Michael Moorcock
23 - The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg
24 - The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds - H. G. Wells
25 - Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
26 - Ubik - Philip K. Dick
27 - Timescape - Gregory Benford
28 - More Than Human - Theodore Sturgeon
29 - Man Plus - Frederik Pohl
30 - A Case of Conscience - James Blish

31 - The Centauri Device - M. John Harrison
32 - Dr. Bloodmoney - Philip K. Dick
33 - Non-Stop - Brian Aldiss
34 - The Fountains of Paradise - Arthur C. Clarke
35 - Pavane - Keith Roberts
36 - Now Wait for Last Year - Philip K. Dick
37 - Nova - Samuel R. Delany
38 - The First Men in the Moon - H. G. Wells
39 - The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke
40 - Blood Music - Greg Bear

41 - Jem - Frederik Pohl
42 - Bring the Jubilee - Ward Moore
43 - VALIS - Philip K. Dick
44 - The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. Le Guin
45 - The Complete Roderick - John Sladek
46 - Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - Philip K. Dick
47 - The Invisible Man - H. G. Wells
48 - Grass - Sheri S. Tepper
49 - A Fall of Moondust - Arthur C. Clarke
50 - Eon - Greg Bear

51 - The Shrinking Man - Richard Matheson
52 - The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - Philip K. Dick
53 - The Dancers at the End of Time - Michael Moorcock
54 - The Space Merchants - Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
55 - Time Out of Joint - Philip K. Dick
56 - Downward to the Earth - Robert Silverberg
57 - The Simulacra - Philip K. Dick
58 - The Penultimate Truth - Philip K. Dick
59 - Dying Inside - Robert Silverberg
60 - Ringworld - Larry Niven

61 - The Child Garden - Geoff Ryman
62 - Mission of Gravity - Hal Clement
63 - A Maze of Death - Philip K. Dick
64 - Tau Zero - Poul Anderson
65 - Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke
66 - Life During Wartime - Lucius Shepard
67 - Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang - Kate Wilhelm
68 - Roadside Picnic - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
69 - Dark Benediction - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
70 - Mockingbird - Walter Tevis

71 - Dune - Frank Herbert
72 - The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
73 - The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
74 - Inverted World - Christopher Priest
75 - Kurt Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle
76 - H.G. Wells - The Island of Dr. Moreau
77 - Arthur C. Clarke - Childhood's End
78 - H.G. Wells - The Time Machine
79 - Samuel R. Delany - Dhalgren (July 2010)
80 - Brian Aldiss - Helliconia (August 2010)

81 - H.G. Wells - Food of the Gods (Sept. 2010)
82 - Jack Finney - The Body Snatchers (Oct. 2010)
83 - Joanna Russ - The Female Man (Nov. 2010)
84 - M.J. Engh - Arslan (Dec. 2010)

Clearly, I still have ways to go on my classic science fiction reading resolution for this year. Perhaps, I'll pick up one of the books above next time I go book shopping.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Naamah's Curse

Title: Naamah's Curse
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Naamah Trilogy, book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Not as good as Naamah's Kiss, but don't let that stop you.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Moirin leaves Ch'in in search of Bao, who went to find his biological father among the Tatar. However a cold winter is coming to the steppes and Moirin will need to survive it before figuring out her relationship with Bao.

Reactions: Naamah's Kiss was one of my favourite books last year, therefore Naamah's Curse was on my to-read list without any doubts. I did see a somewhat negative review of the book on Amazon prior to buying it that left me worried, but I tried to put it out of my mind and enjoy my reading. The review turned out to be wrong (in my humble opinion), but I do have some comments of my own.

As everything else I've ready by Jacqueline Carey, this book is easily readable and plainly enjoyable. I read through it in a day's time (nice to have time off for the Independence Day), but despite the attraction of the book, I didn't like it as much as the first book in the series.

The weakness of Naamah's Curse is definitely its plot. There isn't a full arch to the story in the book, but rather several separate plot arches connected by "and then Moirin did this..." type of narration. I also don't feel there was a whole lot of character development or overall plot development in this book. Other than re-uniting Morin and Bao, the rest of the plot could probably be skipped. And while there are lots of emotional moments in between, none of them seem to be tied together. Why does Moirin's destiny want her to be in some particular place at a particular time and then leave it behind with nothing more than a few new scars? The progress and the motivation behind the story leave some to be desired.

However, the story is made more interesting by description of different cultures and religions that Moirin encounters on her journey. I particularly enjoyed the character of Rani, who is almost as a compelling a heroine as Moirin herself.

I will without doubt pick up the next book in the series to find out the conclusion of Moirin's story. But I do hope that Carey will pull her plotting together to write a satisfying ending to this epic.

Clockwork Heart

Title: Clockwork Heart
Author: Dru Pagliassotti
Genre: Steampunk
Published: 2008

Recommendation: Decent steampunk romance.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Taya is a winged courier, one who can move between all castes of Ondinium. It begins with her saving a noblewoman and her child but becomes a web of intrigue and mystery she will solve.

Reactions: Clockwork Heart is a combination or a mystery, romance, and steampunk. I wouldn't say it excels at any one of the above categories, but I've formed a positive impression of the book overall.

The romance part of the novel involves a love triangle between Taya and two nobleman brothers Alister and Cristof Forlore. Alister is handsome and charming and paying special attention to Taya. Cristof lives as an outcast in the poorest section of the city and mends clocks for a living. He is serious, grouchy and described resembling a crow. It's not hard to guess who ends up being the good guy in the book, but unfortunately Cristof is not a terribly appealing character which was a drawback for me.

The mystery begins with a sabotaged ferry car and several acts of terrorism follow while Taya and Cristof investigate. There is a political background to the story centering around access to the technology of Ondinium. There are punch-card computing mechanisms the programming of which were rather entertaining for me to read about. The political background is fairly well done, though the mystery itself was fairly straightforward although with some minor twists.

The least satisfying part for me was the relationship resolution. In a few places, I felt things worked out too nicely to be realistic and I was not quite satisfied with the ending. Despite that, the book made for a fun read and I wouldn't dissuade anyone from picking it up.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mid-Year Recap

Happy Canada Day everyone! And so without much ado we are half a year into 2010 and I barely noticed how the time went by.

Time to reflect on half a year worth of reading and point out my favorites so far.
First place goes to *drumroll*

1. The Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson
I've read (and watched in the case of the first book) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and enjoyed the books immensely.
See reviews here: book1, book2, book3. Definitely recommending these books to everyone.

2. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
A book that has been spoken of a lot and that I have held out reading for so long finally had the chance to sweep me off my feet in this atmospheric, Gothic tale of two magicians.
Full review here.

3. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
Carey is a long-time favourite author whose books I just generally enjoy. (Speaking of which, Naamah's Curse is sitting on my table waiting for me to read it as I type). Santa Olivia, though not part of D'Angeline world was a touching story in a modern setting. Both fantasy and post-apocalypse fans will enjoy this one.
Full review here.

4. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
An outstanding fantasy debut that has been topping all the favorites lists in the past year. I loved the magic school idea taken on with a much more adult approach to story telling and characterization.
Full review here.

In total, I read 23 books this year which puts me on track for my 45 books goal. I also did pretty well on my other goals (I already read and reviewed 2 non-fiction books and several science fiction novels). And the having fun goal has been the easiest so far.